Sunday, August 28, 2011

How to Read the Kindle

I just watched a horrifying commercial from Amazon. Here is the commercial and then a short reading of that commercial:

As the narrative opens, a young man stands holding his Kindle. An attractive woman walks out into the tablua rasa white space of the advertising world (and is it possible to read that as anything other than the intellectual vaccuum in which they both live?), and asks, "Hey where are you going?" When she invites him to the bookstore to get a book that "just came out," he declines. (Apparently the book's not the only thing that's just come out). He is ordering a "new book" on his Kindle "in less than 60 seconds." "Oh my god," she responds, "That's the book I was going to get." Wow. What a coincidence! The commercial ends with her reading his Kindle, while shushing him with a warning finger. Here are some secret messages the commercial contains: 

  1. Speed is good. Would downloading the book be worth the wait of, say, 3 minutes? 
  2. Novelty is also good. The book both people want is brand-spanking new. That it's a best seller is implied by the new-ness and the fact that they both want it.  (Fun fact: "best sellers" are determined by books pre-ordered, not books sold. Their label is a self-fulfilling prophecy).
  3. The world and the people within it are things to be avoided. There is literally no world in the commercial. The actors provide the only clue we are viewing a 3-D space (though, ironically, the actors themselves are decidedly 2-D). Bookstores are things to be avoided. So, too, are people apparently since the the two actors are looking at the screen and not each other as the commercial ends.
  4. Words are bad. The commercial script segues into a non-verbal cue from the woman telling the man to shut up, followed by airy and mindless la-la-la music without actual words.

The book that both actors want desperately to pick up (and not necessarily to read) is Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken.  The book came out last year — 18, 489, 600 seconds ago — and was, you guessed it: a New York Times best seller and a "make book" from Amazon. It was their "book of the month" and a book they have tried in other ways to "make" you buy. An odd and dated choice to display for a TV ad you wonder? I think the ad people are trying to market this device to non-readers, a demographic they are not only appealing to but also helping to create. 

I'm not anti-technology. (In fact, I am typing these words on a computer). I've just never seen Amazon so nakedly attack bookstores, community, personal contact, and words themselves. Bookstores are vanishing rapidly and funding for libraries is always under threat. Outside of schools, what public spaces will allow people to gather, to read, to talk, and to think?


Naomi said...

To skip to the question at the end of the blog,where will people meet to read,and think, I think the answer is in where many people go once they leave libraries- coffee shops. The rush and excitement of a new book often wears off after a few days, so by examining where someone goes immediately after getting a book, we can see where the future of thinking is. When I go to Starbucks, I almost always see someone reading. I hope that libraries and bookstores never die, but I have no problem to thinking space being moved to somewhere with a very convenient hot chocolate for me to sip while reading a book.

becky.h said...

I had never really understood the immense popularity of the Kindle until recently. I found myself in the local Barns and Nobles and realized i was surrounded by at least 30 different people curled up, reading on these little tablets. It was an eery feeling, because we were in a book store. Shouldn't people be reading books? It was then that i really started noticing people reading on Kindles, Ipads, and other technology sources. Soon after that, the Borders near my house shut down completely. That was when this scary idea was planted in my head, that one day, books might not even be necessary. Generations from now, i want people to still be able to curl up in front of the fire with a nice novel, not with the cold, metal of their Macbooks.

TimP. said...

I really like what is being said about the commercial,which I personally don't like just because of the, as O'Conner put it, la-la-la music. However, I do think that people might be over thinking the commercial a tad bit. As a broad overview, I think it should be pointed out that a commercial is made so that people don't have to think about the product, just make them want it. So when we examine the commercial on a much more in-depth analysis, the actual meaning of the commercial (By me now!) becomes a little fuzzy. Because of this, I find it really hard to identify with some of the broader points that were made, seeing as they loose connection to the actual, initial commercial. That being said, I'd like to talk more specifically about some of these points.
O'Conner point 1: While I would be perfectly fine with a three minute wait, what's to say five second wait is worse, let alone not an improvement. Simply because one would, does not mean one has to.
Point 2: Again, what's wrong with up to date? Sure, there are really good older books out there, but that shouldn't mean keeping up with current trends is bad.
Point 3: In this point I must bring up the point I said earlier about the purpose of a commercial. It is supposed to make you want their product, and by only including what they did, they eliminate what can be considered as competing distractions. Also, Because the purpose of the commercial is to make people want to by the item, and only think about wanting to by the item, I find it very much a slippery slope if one wants to apply a detail of such a limited part of someone's life and perspective to then cross-apply that to the rest of theirs lives. Note: The two actors did consistently make eye contact through the commercial, and the purpose of no eye contact at the very end was to convey the emotions, so to speak, of getting rapped up in a good book, which is most certainly not a bad thing.
Point 4: The "shush" ending, I feel, does not interpret to mean, "Shut up, I don't like talking to people despite having just done so." Instead, it is used to draw parallels between the kindle and a stereotypical library, which, if anything, is in contrast to O'Conner's point that Bookstores and the world are something to be avoided.
No offense to your pointed evaluation of the commercial, but I feel you got too rapped up in trying to make over-arching connections to something that just fundamentally doesn't have any.

sarahN. said...

While watching this video I was reminded strongly of the mac vs. pc commercials. This is most likely because of the same white background in which there "is literally no world," how Mr. O'Connor nicely puts it. I had always been a fan of these apple commercials and found them pretty funny, but never realized some of their secret messages. Until I read this post I had never viewed the lack of background in these ads as a way of saying the third secret message, "The world and the people within it are things to be avoided." Now I see that this is in fact an accurate interpretation, and it is certainly a message I don't agree with. This concerns me because I have always been an apple product user. I now feel almost guilty as I write this on my Macbook and I wonder: Is it wrong to buy products from a company whose secret messages conflict with my personal beliefs?

Katie C. said...

I think Mr. O'Connor was spot on in his dissection of the commercial's secret messages.
Another thing that really stuck with me was the Kindle's reflection of the modern world, AKA the wonder of "60 seconds." In this day and age everything is about speed. Consumers want results FAST. I'll admit I even get stressed when an internet page doesn't load or an e-mail doesn't send. The Kindle's advertisement has taken advantage of this fact. It says, "Why get up, get in your car and drive to the bookstore? You can have the book you want in your hand in 60 seconds without ever leaving your recliner."

David K. said...

I understand Mr. O'Connor's concern that bookstores are vanishing rapidly, and it makes perfect sense for people to feel nostalgia upon understanding that the reading is becoming drastically different from what it used to be. However, I think that as a society we must learn to embrace the efficiency - it is simply the continuation of the progress of humanity. Kindles do in fact provide many upsides to books, and for many people it will offset the burden of buying books. But who's to say that dedicated readers won't be able to do the things Mr. O'Conner discussed? I'm sure that many people will still favor books and continue the tradition of going to the library. Although I personally do not have a Kindle, I'm glad people have the freedom to decide whether they want to read from a screen or from a legitimate book.

BMurdoch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BMurdoch said...

I agree with what everyone is saying, especially the comments made about Americans "need for speed". Until now, I never really wondered why everyone assumes faster is better. It makes sense right? Less time doing one thing allows me to spend more time doing other things? It all circles back to what i find to be Americas biggest fault: workaholism. A lot of other countries don't work nearly as long or as much as we do. For example, it is required in France to give full time employees a minimum of 30 vacation days a year, and in Spain, everyone in the country takes a nap in the middle of every day. In fact, an Ecuadorian friend of mine once told me: "You see, here [meaning Ecuador]- people work to live while Americans live to work."
In this country, not only do we value the ability to produce something, but how fast and how many can we produce? Time is money after all, and money is something Americans really seem to take a liking to.

Natalie S. said...

I agree with Katie, the Kindle is sending the message that less work is better. In the case with the Kindle and many other technologies you can get more things done faster with less work. Why do more than you have to? A print copy of a book would be a great experience, but that would involve much more work and would take more time. The experience isn't the same but there is less work involved, which I believe is appealing the viewers of this comercial.

Martha Tubbs said...

I happened to come across this blog and would like to share some views on Apple as an "ad man". Just to pick up on one element of this conversation, Apple's use of the color white in television advertising is a direct extension of the brand's functional and aesthetic design ethos. Apple uses a sleek, modern and minimalist style in everything from its stores to product packaging and graphic interfaces in its software. This was done deliberately to contrast Apple against the clunky products and messy graphics from Microsoft (see a fun comparison at In terms of social engagement and links between Apple and broader American values, Apple has always presented technology as an enabler of personal freedoms, choice, and creative expression. Keep up the great work teacher and students, and remember that life is like a snow globe...shake things up once in a while just for fun!